Missing in Action: Finding an American Abroad

If a loved one is traveling abroad and has not contacted you in weeks or months, you are rightly concerned. This individual may have gotten into trouble and may not be able to contact you.

For American citizens traveling abroad, there is always a risk that a problem might occur. Usually, when there is an issue, you will be notified directly by that person or by the US Department of State of a situation. However, when silence is the only response you get when making an inquiry, it is time for you to contact the US government for assistance. Here is how to notify the government and what you can expect in response.

1. Make a phone call. Contact the State Department at 1-888-407-4747. The information you provide about the missing person will be passed to the appropriate embassy or consulate.

2. Allow the government to take action. Once your information is in the embassy or consulate’s hands, they will contact local authorities to find out if this person has been hospitalized, arrested or is unable to communicate.

3. Await further action. If through their normal contact means the embassy or consulate is unable to get results, a personal search may be conducted. This may include staff visiting area airports, hotels, hospitals and prisons to to find the missing person.

4. Written consent. If the missing person is found, they must provide written consent revealing their whereabouts. Under the US “Privacy Act,” the federal government may not tell anyone including family members and Congressional representatives information without their consent. Exceptions are made for minors as well as for individuals whose health or safety may be in jeopardy.

Notification Considerations

The Department of State does say that US citizens are sometimes out of touch with loved ones simply because they forget to make contact. Only challenges include lack of email access, the inability to make international calls, erratic or busy schedules, and time differences.

The department advises loved ones to finalize communication plans before the individual leaves the country. These plans should include a method of contact (i.e., phone call, Skype, or email), and the frequency of such contacts. Leaving a copy of their itinerary behind is important too. The more details you have, the easier it will be for the Department of State to find this person if needed.

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